SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated PS4 Review
The first thing I want to mention in this review is just how good it felt to rewind time, relax, and go back to basics; a chilled-out 3D platforming adventure game with no meaningful story to take away from or gameplay gimmick to hook interest. This made it temptingly easy to grab the controller and sit back for an hour or two of jumping around and collecting everything in sight. There was absolutely no need for the mental preparation that so many games require these days – to be totally focussed and awake in order to not miss a second of story or whiff a vital dodge. The warm up games before going into ranked online and the legitimate stress that gaming can bring with it these days. In fact, I very nearly played myself to sleep, controller in hand, when I decided to stay up late and play one night. That’s something I could never imagine doing with another game I’ve played in a good few years and it was incredibly refreshing to be able let go and just play.
Of course that alone doesn’t make it a great game but it did actually turn out to be a lot of fun (or F.U.N for the now adult SpongeBob fans out there). It’s not without its issues though. For starters it’s a pretty faithful remake of a thirteen-year-old PS2 game that already felt more like a PS1 game when it came out. That means all of the rewarding reply value and quality of life updates that most contemporary games get by default are completely missing. For example, it can be very difficult to determine where the characters will land when trying to make some of the tighter jumps and I spent literally almost two hours grinding for the common collectible currency ‘Shiny Things’ in order to 100% the game and enter a special theatre room…which turned out to be a slideshow of around 8 screenshots from the game I just 100% completed. Darn it I should have known better, they got me with that in the PS2 version also – how was I supposed to remember?!
Much like other classic collect-a-thons, from Banjo-Kazooie to, perhaps my favourites, the original Spyro trilogy, the gameplay revolves around hunting for minor collectibles, that are mostly scattered everywhere; and major collectibles, which are usually the magical world-saving macguffins that are rewarded for completing tasks and reaching milestones. Taking place in the three-section hub world of Bikini Bottom and breaking out into stages such as Jellyfish Fields, Rock Bottom, and the Flying Dutchman’s Graveyard, the game boasts a decent one-hundred Golden Spatulas to track down. And whilst many of them are simply purchased from Mr. Krabs (with no regard for how many Shiny Things the player naturally collects in a playthrough), or are rewards for finding other collectibles that are either: game-based, like Patrick’s socks; or level-based, such as missing artwork, the main ones are quite well scattered. They feel meaningful to acquire and the slow count to the magic one-hundred total is mostly well paced.
Each world having Patrick or Sandy as a secondary playable character, with their own unique abilities of throwing objects or using a lasso to swing across large gaps, respectively, also helps switch up the gameplay and keep things from getting too stale. As a collect-a-thon by nature, however, the game expectedly comes to a screeching halt when it comes down to finding the last couple of pickups in the big, open areas that are full of nooks and crannies, secret hiding places, and special triggers (like ‘fixing’ Mermaid Man’s TV set). This is less a criticism of the genre and more of the lack of quality of life additions, such as accessing hints or a point in the right direction once the player has managed to already take down the final boss and is only looking to clear up for that 100% achievement. There’s no fun or pride to be sucked out of tediously combing these expansive areas manually, especially when they are split into multiple zones and there’s no way to tell which one you should be looking through, but I suppose that is what it means to accurately remake a game – the whole experience, not just the good.
Although, now that I think about it they actually did add a new multiplayer mode. They even went so far as to make it available online, which seems a bit excessive for what it is – bad. It describes itself as a ‘horde mode’ but really it’s just twenty-six (yes, twenty-six, even though it gets old after the first couple) fights with a different bunch of enemies, increasing in challenge, as the players move from island to island chasing down a robot Squidward. It’s just so bland, so void of life or progression. I guess it was a nice idea to put in content that was cut from the original game, which is where the boss comes from, but it is not at all fun to play. Combat is absolutely not the focus of the game, it’s more of a distraction, to have some hazards outside of platforming but it was never engaging in any way and it wore on both of us as we waded through section after section just waiting for it to end. Unless you’re very curious, I’d say stick to the main game.
It’s fair to say Battle for Bikini Bottom was hardly a revelation back in 2003 and it’s definitely not one now, even with the cult popularity the original has gained due to the speedrunning community. What it is, however, is a fun time that nobody can knock, no matter how simple it may be. The boss battles may be poor, the jokes may often fall flat, and the ending may be completely anticlimactic, but any faults here are actually faults of the original that this new version has masterfully remade. Rehydrated is a total success in bringing the original back to life and it somehow looks truly beautiful, especially considering the obviously juvenile nature of the source material. It’s not something I would outwardly recommend to everyone but it did make me reconsider my pipeline of games and if I might not just want to throw in a couple of mindless simple ones, in order to relax between the giants.